Just days after welcoming in 2023 with its first big NYE party since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sydney has welcomed its first annual drone show event – Elevate Sydney!
Held between January 3rd and January 7th, Elevate Sydney is an entertainment festival held on the Cahill Expressway but each night at 10:30pm, eyes looked skyward above Circular Quay for the Elevate Sydney Skyshow – the largest drone show in the Southern Hemisphere.
Containing 600 drones, the 5-minute drone show, with a theme of water & ecological sustainability, saw the creation of many images of sea creatures from Sydney Harbour led by an ‘anthromophic’ Benny the Seal. For international readers, Benny the Seal is a real seal who can be found occasionally sunbathing at the Sydney Opera House on Bennelong Point between Vivid Sydney & September.
Elevate Sydney was first held in the 1st 5 days of 2022 thus making the 2023 edition the first consequentially held drone show over Sydney Harbour. Drone shows made their debut on Sydney Harbour in 2016 as part of Vivid Sydney, when a then-world-record-breaking 100 drones took to the skies of Farm Cove as part of a world record attempt by Intel. The world record is now currently around 5000 drones – a record held by China.
5 and a half years later, drones finally returned to Sydney Harbour for the 1st edition of Elevate, when they set the Southern Hemisphere-record up to 500 and since then, 3 other drone shows have been held – another one at Vivid Sydney to promote the Paramount+ streaming service (which broke the Southern Hemisphere-record to the now-equal 600), Art Up, a nightly drone show to commemorate the re-opening of the Art Gallery Of New South Wales (NSW) over 9 nights in early December and 2 Christmas-themed shows – 1 at Noel Sydney, a new Christmas event and 1 at Darling Harbour – both held numerous times roughly in the week before Christmas.
Elevate is more than just a drone show though. The entertainment festival on the Cahill Expressway takes up most of the day, held in 3 sessions each for a capacity of 3000 people. Therefore, it is a free ticketed event. However, since the event begun last year, the 3000 tickets get snapped up fast. All sessions contain roaming entertainment and a ‘gate/wait party’ in the portion of The Domain immediately west of the northbound Cahill Expressway on-ramp for those who missed out on a ticket and are waiting for capacity to improve. This was introduced after controversy was ignited in the inaugural edition when ticketholders failed to show up (due to line-up changes and understandably, COVID-19) but failed to return the tickets despite organisers urging people to if they can’t make it.
It begins at 10am with the 2.5 hour Elevate Family (formerly Kids). This session is targeted at children aged under 13 and their parents with the 2022 edition’s session being bookended by live interactive performances of the Australian world sensation television series, Bluey. Hosted by Play School hosts, Michelle Lim Davidson & Matthew Backer, who also run their own twice-held daily event segment called Story Salad, other Elevate Family content includes Monski Mouse (a disc jockey for babies), The Gagliardies and Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo. This session was not held on the first event day as it was in 2022.
In 2022, Elevate Kids was held earlier and longer for 4 hours from 8am. Hosted by children’s entertainment personality, Justine Clarke, each day began with a wellness session by former Wiggles dancer, Lauren Hannaford, before Ready, Set, Dance & disc jockey Romeboy take the reins. Erth’s Prehistoric Aquarium & everyday item musicians, Junkyard Beats round out the entertainment which are headlined on the first event day by Australian global sensation, The Wiggles, and by Simon Wiggle & Friends on the latter days. The latest Australian global sensation, Bluey, also appeared on the first 3 event days before the characters of Kangaroo Beach appeared in Bluey‘s place on the final day.
Back to 2023 and the next 2.5-hour session begun at 2:30pm and it is called Elevate Social. This consists of 2 75-minute electronic music and/or disc jockey sets. Headliners each day from 4th January were, in chronological order, Young Franco, Anna Lunoe, Kito & The Jungle Giants. They were supported, again in chronological order, by Running Touch, Harvey Sutherland, Touch Sensitive & Kinder.
In 2022, Elevate Social was a completely different event. It was 3-hour variety event held from 2pm called Elevate Arena. Hosted by comedian Joel Ozbourn, it begun with interviews, conducted by former Sydney NYE television broadcast co-host Stephanie Brantz, with sporting personalities. This was followed by performances by The Drummer Queens, The Hula Queen, DB Freestyle (a freestyle football act) and The Tap Pack. On the first 2 event days, Worlds Collide, a multi-cultural music band was the finale while in the latter 2 event days, it was Barrio Soul. Sporting personalities interviewed included:
- NSW dragon boat racing champion, Andrew Wong (final event day),
- Under 23 Australian road cycling champion, Emily Watts (2nd event day),
- A-League soccer runner-up goalkeeper, Jada Mathyssen-Whyman (3rd event day)
- Australian (Rules) Football League runner-up footballer, Tom McCartin (4th event day),
- A-League soccer champion, Rhys Williams (2nd event day),
- Matilda, Remy Siemsen (3rd event day),
- Matilda, Emily Van Egmond (3rd event day),
- 3-time Australian beach running champion, Ali Najem (2nd event day),
- Rugby League World Cup silver medallist, Brian To’o (2nd event day),
- FIBA World Cup silver medallist, Katie Ebzery (final event day),
- Rugby World Cup silver medallist, Micheal Hooper (3rd event day),
- Rugby League World Cup gold medallist, Tom Trbojevic (4th event day),
- Cricket World Cup gold medallist, Ashleigh Gardner (2nd event day),
- Cricket World Cup gold medallist, Brad Haddin (3rd event day),
- 2-time World Netball Championship gold medallist, Kimberlee Green (final event day),
- 2-time World Netball Championship gold medallist, Caitlin Bassett (4th event day),
- 3-time Cricket World Cup gold medallist, Shane Watson (4th event day),
- Paralympic silver medallist triathlete, Lauren Parker (final event day),
- Olympic silver medallist diver, Melissa Wu (2nd event day),
- Olympic silver medallist beach volleyballer, Mariafe Artacho del Solar (3rd event day),
- Olympic silver medallist high jumper, Nicola McDermott (3rd event day),
- 3-time Paralympic silver medallist rower, Erik Horrie (final event day),
- 2-time Paralympic gold medallist wheelchair racer, Madison de Rozario (4th event day) and,
- 5-time Olympic gold medallist swimmer, Emma McKeon (final event day).
The final, main session is at 8pm & last 3 hours. It is called Elevate Nights & unlike the other sessions, it is held every event day. Essentially, it is a nightly concert hosted by Sydney NYE concert television broadcast co-host, Zan Rowe. Headliners in 2023, in chronological order, are, Ya Girl Party B (2 sets), Spacey Jane, Amy Shark, The Veronicas and Sampa The Great. Supporting them are Client Liaison (1st event day), Thelma Plum & Ruby Fields (2nd event day), Mallrat & Becca Hatch (3rd event day), Betty Who & Drax Project (4th event day) and Northwest Party House & Wafia (final event day). All event days apart from the 1st one open with a house disc jockey.
Back in 2022, it started an hour earlier at 7pm (with the drone show being 30 minutes earlier at 10pm also to conclude the session) and was called Club Elevate. It was a slightly different event with theatre included with each night taking a different name (list below in chronological order):
- Elevate First
- Elevate Discotheque
- Elevate Encore
- Elevate Music
- Elevate Sydney Final Night
As you can see above, they quickly ran out of unique names (Note: ‘First’ is a pun referencing both the first event night and First Nations) so it’s not surprising they stuck with a simple Elevate Nights label for all nights in 2023.
Elevate First begun with a Call To Country designed by Sydney NYE2008-2010 Creative Director, Rhoda Roberts, before performances were held by Indigenous artists, Electric Fields (support act) & Troy Casser-Daley (headliner).
Elevate Discotheque was headlined by Leo Sayer with support acts by Marcia Hines & Courtney Act, the latter who also acts as host. Elevate Encore is headlined by Lime Cordiale and supported by Peking Duk. Elevate Music was hosted by Triple J‘s Ebony Boadu and featured the following artists: BVT, CXLOE, Hauskey, L-FRESH the LION & Ngaiire, while Elevate Sydney Final Night was headlined by Tones & I, supported by Tim Minchin & hosted by Joel Ozborn after Courtney Act had to pull out.
One constant between the inaugural edition & the 2nd edition was that the drone show soundtrack was composed both times by DOBBY (Rhyan Clapham) featuring Uncle Matty Doyle. The 2023 soundtrack, which was available live online during the drone shows for the 1st time, also featured Kelsey Iris, who opened the soundtrack. All 3 artists are descendants of the Murruwarri people of north-western NSW.
The 2022 drone show had a generic theme of ‘Summer Sydney’ particularly as it was the first edition of the event. The 2022 event also had an augmented reality smartphone experience produced by Charles Clapshaw of Futures of Art and notably had strict COVID-19 protocols, given the public health situation at that time.
Something new in 2023 was the introduction of the world’s longest bar – the aptly named Long Bar! Stretching 127 metres along the Cahill Expressway facing the north over Circular Quay, this bar operated during the Elevate Social & Elevate Night sessions during the final 4 event days.
Whilst tickets to sit at the bar are free, each ticket is only valid for a 1-hour window. There are no tickets handed out for the Long Bar during Elevate Family sessions, particularly as there is, rightly, no alcohol service during that session but the bar is still available to be sat at any time for an unlimited time during that session (if a seat is available!).
Back to the Elevate Social & Nights sessions, an add-on food & beverage package costing $50 per person is also available, which includes a “glass of NSW beer or wine served with a grazing selection featuring the finest of NSW produce”. If you do not purchase the package, there is still other food & beverages being sold at the Bar during those sessions. Also, if you have a ticket for the Long Bar you enter via an elevator on the eastern Circular Quay promenade that is goes up to Expressway level! This elevator is not used during Elevate Family.
Commissioned by Destination New South Wales to help with the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic & produced by AGB Events with producer Olivia Bradley, Elevate Sydney is the beginning of a new dawn in annual events over Sydney Harbour – the biggest since projection mapping was introduced in 2008 for Sydney New Year’s Eve, which later sparked the phenomenal success of Vivid Sydney, which began a year later. Chief Executive Officer & Creative Director of AGB Events, Anthony Bastic, said at the 2022 Elevate Sydney launch:
The coupling of technologies and applying them to outdoor public events greatly enhances the audience experience & will certainly set a benchmark for future events. This world-class initiative really positions New South Wales as a leader in event innovation, & what a stunning debut it will be over Sydney Harbour.
We are very grateful for the support & efforts of the many agencies who have worked with us to realise this project. This is an industry we really want to nurture and promote. The Intel pilots travelling to Australia and sharing their knowledge is an amazing opportunity to grow the expertise of local drone operatorsAnthony Bastic, Chief Executive Officer & Creative Director of AGB Events
The 2022 edition’s Cahill Expressway sessions, which had a capacity of 3200, reached full capacity on the penultimate Elevate Kids session & the final 3 Club Elevate sessions. Sydney Spectaculars estimates no more than 63,000 people attended Elevate Sydney 2022 (average maximum 13,100 per day, that is day 2-5) including 18,000 around Circular Quay over the 5 nights to watch the SkyShow (average 3,600 per night) in addition to the maximum 3,200 watching from the Cahill Expressway. Day 1 of the event (New Year’s Day) had an estimated attendance of no more than 3,660 given it was only held at night and also, understandably, Sydney had a big night the previous night.
Intel, who did the drone show at The Games Of The XXXIInd Olympiad: Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony and the first Sydney Harbour drone show at Vivid Sydney 2016, did not return in 2023 with a local company, Mirragin, instead taking the reins.
While the 2023 attendance statistics are yet to be announced, all sessions sold out while the penultimate Elevate Social session was cancelled and the first Elevate Nights session finished early (the SkyShow still went ahead on time in the end, fortunately, though), both due to the weather.
This event is one to watch for the future.
Sydney is elevating!